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Second Story Man

Second Story Man

by Charles Salzberg

ISBN: 9781946502551

Publisher Down & Out Books

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Sample Chapter


CHAPTER 1

Francis Hoyt

"Where's my fucking money?"

"Francis, these things take time, man."

I pounded on the table. Ice clattered against the sides of glasses.

"It's been three fucking weeks, Artie. Are you running a business, or what? I want my fucking money and I want it now."

I moved my chair around until I was sitting right next to him and then I got all up in his face, so close I could smell his cheap after-shave. Old Spice. I hadn't smelled that since I was a kid and my old man used to pour it on to cover his nauseating stink of alcohol and cigarettes.

"Listen," I whispered, "you do not want to fuck with me. I can be nice and I can be not so nice. Trust me, you do not want to deal with the not so nice Francis Hoyt. That would be a very big mistake, my friend."

We're sitting at a table by the pool at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami. Artie's wearing one of those obscene-looking, loud Hawaiian shirts and a bathing suit to match. He looks like he's some fucking fat tourist from Iowa on vacation for the first time. I'm dressed like a human being: khakis and a pale blue polo, Gucci loafers. One of us looks like a complete asshole and it's not me.

I'm not registered at the hotel and I doubt Artie is either. I'm the one who can afford it. He's not. But this is where he hangs out and this is where he likes to act like a big shot by conducting business by the pool surrounded by a bunch of old, overweight, greased-up Jews spread out on chaise lounges, staring up at the sun while they bake. Guys like Artie don't have offices. They just exist somewhere in time and space. But they wouldn't exist at all if it wasn't for guys like me.

Artie is a fence. I'm a thief. Not just a run-of-the-mill, knock-you-over-the-head-and-steal-your-wallet thief, but the best damn thief in the whole goddamn world. Artie owes me money for goods delivered. The good stuff. Only the good stuff. Antique silver. Three heists' worth. I figure I should clear at least a couple hundred grand after Artie takes his cut. That sounds like a lot but it's only a fraction of its real value.

"Francis," he whines, "I don't think you understand how my business works. You bring me high-end items like what you give me and I have to find unique buyers. And it ain't here in the States. It's much too risky to dispose of that kind of stuff here. I have to reach out to my European contacts. That takes time. You want me to get the best price, don't you?"

"Listen to me, Artie," I raised my voice a little, just enough to raise the stakes slightly. Just enough to let him know I meant business. "Because I'm not going to say it again. I'm leaving town soon and I need that money. I'm not interested in your business problems. You're a fucking fence. Do your fucking job. If you can't, I'll find someone who can."

Artie loves to look like a big man so he's ordered lunch for us. Pastrami sandwiches on rye. I don't want lunch, I especially don't want a pastrami sandwich because I don't eat meat. Artie would have known that if he'd bothered to ask, but he didn't. He just wanted to look like a fucking big shot. I don't care about his fucking lunch. I just want my fucking money. Besides, it's hot, so hot I'm starting to sweat through my shirt, even though I hardly ever sweat. As it gets closer to one, it's getting hotter. I look up and see why. There's not a fucking cloud in the sky. Just the sun. A big, yellow ball in the sky, suspended in an ocean of blue. That's why people come down here. For the sun and the heat. So, they can jump in the pool to cool off. Makes no sense to me. You want to cool off stay the fuck where you were up north. Or stay in your air-conditioned room.

"Whoa, Francis, we go back a long way. I don't want to lose an old client like you. Besides, you're more like a friend than a client."

I laughed. I don't think of myself as a client and I certainly don't think of myself as Artie's friend. I break into people's homes and take what I want. Artie sells what I take. We have what they call a symbiotic relationship. It's as simple as that. Only Artie isn't making it as simple as that. He's making it difficult. It's my job to get him back on track. To remind him who the fuck he is and why the fuck he exists.

"I'll give you two days. You understand? Two fucking days. No more. You either come up with the dough or you give me back the goods. I'll find someone else to fence it or I'll fucking melt it down and sell the shit myself."

"Don't do that! Please. Some of those pieces are part of history, man. American history. They go way, way back."

"I don't give a fuck about American history. All I give a fuck about is the money. And don't fuck with me when it comes to the money. I know the value of those pieces. I researched them. It's not just the silver it's the provenance. You know what that means?" "I do, Francis. I really do. And that's why I'm being so careful. Whatever you bring me is high-grade stuff. I have to take special care. But you'll get your money, I promise you."

I move my chair back a couple steps. I've been too close to him for too long. That stink coming off him is starting to make me sick.

"In two days."

"I don't want to set unrealistic expectations," he said, as he reached for his sandwich. I grabbed his wrist before he could get it up to his mouth.

"Let me put this as simple as I can. If I feel like you're trying to cheat me, or if I feel like you're shining me on, or if I think you're doing this just to Jew down the price, I'm going to deal with you in ways you don't want to even think about. I may be physically small but I am very deadly. See that pool over there?" I gestured toward the enormous swimming pool filled with chlorine blue water and screaming kids.

"Yeah. Sure. I see it."

"You don't want to wind up floating in it, face down."

"There's no need for threats."

"It's not a threat. It's a statement of fact. I'm a man who can see into the future. That's your future. Two days."

I got up.

"You haven't even taken a bite of your sandwich."

"I don't eat meat, Artie. Get yourself a doggie bag."

Fucking moron.


Charlie Floyd

"Good morning, Charlie Floyd. Do you know who this is?" The voice was vaguely familiar. Slight hint of an accent. Hispanic, probably. But I needed more.

"Should I?"

He laughed. Not one of those thin, phony laughs, but one that reflected genuine amusement. I leaned back in my recliner and stretched my legs out onto the ottoman. I'd already had breakfast, finished the morning paper, and had nothing better to do till lunch rolled around, so why not play along?

"Did I say something funny?"

"No. Not funny, though I am amused. I thought you would remember me. I am told I am a very memorable man. Frankly, I am a little disappointed, Charlie Floyd."

He'd said enough. I did know him. I'd spent a couple days with him in Miami Beach a while back, while I was down there looking for a killer named John Hartman. Murdered his family, wife, three teenage kids, mother, and the family dog, then disappeared. Cuban-born Miami detective Manny Perez did his best to help me out. That was back when I did that sort of thing for the state of Connecticut. Not anymore. For the past year or so I've been on my own, looking for ways to pass the time, hoping for divine inspiration on how I might spend the rest of my life. No word yet.

"How are you, Manny?"

"I knew you would remember me, Charlie Floyd. Am I not, as I said, a very memorable man?"

"That you are. How've you been?"

"I have been very good. Thank you for asking. Miami is a much better place than Havana, Cuba."

"You've changed your tune since I saw you last."

"Yes. I am for sure singing a different tune now." He hummed a few bars of "God Bless America," then that laugh again. "I do not wish to return to Cuba. Let Castro and his thugs have it and let them do with it what they will. Now Miami is my home sweet home."

"I'm happy you've become assimilated, but my guess is this isn't a social call."

"Ha! I know you are not a very social man, Charlie Floyd. No, you are not one for idle chitchat. Me, on the other hand, I am very social. I like to meet new people. I like to go to nightclubs and have a good time. I like to dance. I like to sing. I like to drink rum and Coca-Cola. I like to talk to strangers on the street. But you are very correct, my friend. That is not why I am calling."

I loved the way Manny talked. Very few contractions, lots of sophisticated words, and every so often he'd throw in a colloquialism or cliché that if it were used by anyone else would be cringe inducing. Not so with Manny. With him every word counted. The English language was never frivolous or haphazard when he used it. I also loved the way he repeated a person's full name at the beginning or end of a sentence. Some might think it's an annoying affectation, but I think it's to show respect and I'm betting it also turns out to be a very effective interrogation tool. Fact is Manny's a very good cop. He knows how to work people. He's got a good head for detail and a memory sharp as a Ginsu knife. If I like him, and I do, it's better than even money everybody else pretty much feels the same. Even the guys he's trying to put in the slammer probably find him charming and likeable. That's not something that can be said about me.

Although Spanish is his native tongue, Manny revels in the English language. He taught American studies back in Cuba before he defected to the U.S. He loves all things American and there's no reason to contract words when to Manny they're so beautiful in their full-blown version. His style of speech reflects his style of police work. Slow, methodical, logical, he picks up every nuance, every comma, every semi-colon, every exclamation point, every period. Not like me. Seat of the pants, instinctive, sometimes impatient, some have even called me rash and impulsive. But it gets the job done, and in the end, that's how we're all judged. Results. That's the difference between the winners and the losers. While Manny is ingratiating, I'm just plain grating. But we both take police work very seriously. I suppose you could say both of us are a little on the obsessive side.

"To what do I owe the honor?"

"I am calling because I need your help, Charlie Floyd."

"In case word didn't make it down there to Miami, I don't work for the state anymore. I took early retirement about a year ago."

Every time I say the word retirement it sticks in my craw. I'm only forty-nine years old. Healthy, productive forty-nine-year olds aren't supposed to be retired. But when you start to work in the system when you're right out of college, then twenty-five years later, no matter how old you are, you're eligible for retirement. It was time for me to move on but I hadn't yet decided where I was moving on to.

"This is not good. You are much too young to retire. You have a lot of life ahead of you. Retirement is for the senior citizens who reside down here in Miami. They play pinochle. They play shuffleboard. They go to the jai alai matches. They take naps in the afternoon. They line up for the early bird special at four-thirty in the afternoon. I do not picture you playing pinochle or shuffleboard, going to jai alai matches, taking naps in the afternoon, or lining up before the sun sets for your evening meal. Take it from me, Charlie Floyd, retirement is not a life for a man such as you."

"Hunting people down for committing capital crimes can take its toll, Manny. It did take its toll. I don't have the stomach for that anymore. It's someone else's problem now."

"Then how do you spend the many hours of your day if you are not chasing down criminals and putting them behind bars?"

Good question. Nearly eight months off the job and I still hadn't figured out what I was going to do with the rest of my life. Now Manny Perez, a man I hadn't laid eyes on in close to five years, was forcing me to come up with an answer.

"I seem to find ways to pass the time," I said. Notice, I didn't say, productively. Anyone can pass the time. It's easy. You find silly, inconsequential things to do. Like getting a haircut every three weeks instead of every three months. Or fixing something around the house that doesn't really need fixing. Or signing up for Netflix and binging on programs you can't even remember the next day. Never had much time to make friends outside of work. I was never bitten by the golf bug. And so, what am I left with? Passing time till time passes me.

"That is not how a man like you should live. A man like you needs purpose. A goal. A man like you should not merely be 'passing the time.'"

"Why do I have the feeling you're calling to change that?"

"See, Charlie Floyd, you are, just as I always knew, an excellent detective."

"Not any more I'm not."

"You know what they say. 'Once a cop always a cop.' Do you still dress like John Wayne?'"

I laughed. "I never dressed like John Wayne."

"The cowboy hat, the boots ..."

"I still have 'em, and I still wear them from time to time, if that's what you mean. But I never did learn how to ride a horse."

"I have a picture of you in my head, Charlie Floyd. And in that picture you are wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. Just like John Wayne."

I wasn't going to argue with him. That's what I mean about Manny Perez. He doesn't give up. Once he gets something in his head it's hard to shake it out of there.

"Maybe you should get to the point, Manny."

"Of course. The point." He chuckled. "My wife calls me long-winded and perhaps she is right. Have you ever heard of a man named Francis Hoyt?"

"Can't say I have. But I'm sure you're going to enlighten me."

He laughed. I liked Manny's laugh. It was full and hearty and brimming with life. I could imagine him smiling, his head thrown back, his perfect white teeth set off by his dark Latin complexion. The opposite of my pale New England pallor.

"That is what I shall most certainly do, though I am surprised you have not heard of Francis Hoyt, because he is one of the most renowned thieves in the world today."

"I never worked robbery, burglary or run-of-the-mill street crime. Homicides and white-collar crimes, that's what interested me. Those other things, much too low-class for me to waste my time with. No challenge in chasing down petty crooks. You remember me, right? I'm a high-stakes kinda guy."

"Yes, I know that all too well and that is precisely why I am calling. And what you say explains why you do not know anything about Francis Hoyt. But if you have a moment or two, and since you are now a man of leisure, I am sure that you do, I shall enlighten you. Francis Hoyt is a genius. A talented, artistic, criminal genius. There has never been anyone like Francis Hoyt before and we should pray to God there never will be one like him in the future."

I pictured Manny crossing himself as he mentioned the Almighty.

"I'm sure you didn't call me to give me a history lesson on this guy Hoyt."

"No. That is most surely not the reason I am calling you. The reason I am calling you, Charlie Floyd, is that it is the month of May. Do you know what that means?"

"April showers bring May flowers."

He laughed. "Yes, that is very true. But it also means something else. It means, the snowbirds head back north."

"And the significance of that would be?"

"When the birds go north so do the predators."

"Manny, I know you well enough to know you're a man of way many words. And believe me, no one enjoys hearing them more than I do. But I hate talking on the phone. This sounds like it has the makings of a very long conversation and for that I prefer face to face. And since you're down there and I'm up here that's going to be impossible."

"I am very glad you said that, Charlie Floyd, because you are absolutely correct. And that is why I am making a trip up to Connecticut to meet with you. In fact, I have a plane ticket that leaves Miami International Airport early tomorrow morning and arrives at Kennedy Airport at 11:42 a.m."

Jesus, he was really serious about this.

"I hate to see you waste your money, Manny. Or the city of Miami waste theirs."

"If I am successful in my quest, it will be money well-spent."

"Truth is, I could probably use the company. But you might be wasting your time, so why don't you give me a hint as to why you want this face-to-face with me."

"I shall provide you with far more than a hint, Charlie Floyd. You are going to help me capture Francis Hoyt with enough evidence to put him back where he belongs."

(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Second Story Man" by Charles Salzberg. Copyright © 2013 by Charles Salzberg. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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